A tale of modern day abuse in a African setting.
| BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
The omen's sequence still hangs over her memory like a dark cloud. She remembers snatching that dusty portrait. Upon it was her late husband; a disapproving look with a military salute. It was waved at Chitumbura in the hope that he would come to his right mind and retreat.
Instead he dodged objects she threw, trousers unbuckled and shirt unbuttoned. Chitumbura advanced towards the crawling woman, drunk with desire. He pursued his prey to the bedroom door. She was about to lock it when knees gave in.
''Nooooooo!'' she screamed, ''not again''
Before another cry, a slap buttered her face. The widow was pinned face down to the floor. Her voice reduced to mere mourns.
''It's been a year now, my brother is gone,'' he gasped.
Chitumbura brushed his lips against the widow's own. His left palm cupped her breasts. The other caressed her bottom and removed her night gown. She was drained of all her strength. The pastor tossed her onto the bed. Her hands tied; he forced her thighs apart.
A morose cry rent the room...
The wine he had brought for dinner must've drugged her. It slowly drowned her into unconsciousness.
The rattling of a gate outside, an engine gurgling to life and the whooshing off of his car faded away.
She just lay there: - a raped widow, barely breathing behind closed doors.
Then the bell kept ringing.
She gathered herself into wakefulness. Rushes of nausea whirled up her throat. The headache was almost audible. She leaned over the bed to vomit. This is when she realised her bra seemed tighter. A bunch of notes were stuffed in.
Auntie shoved them back in, hurriedly dressed and approached the curtains.
A tall headmaster stood outside, clad in a black suit. A teenager in school uniform was standing beside him with a bulky trunk. Chipo had just been expelled from school again.
A clink of the keys and both entered into the sitting room.
''I'm here to discuss your daughter's ..... ,'' he began, pausing for coffee sips.
''If the insurance didn't cover fees,'' she said, tone an octave higher, ''take this.''
She reached down for the bundled money.
''No ma'am, it's just that your daughter's performance has deteriorated,'' he calmly replied.
''Is that why you had to ring the suburb down?'' she quizzed, annoyed.
''No, arrrrg...arrrrgggg!'' he coughed clearing his throat before another try, ''Chipo tried to commit suicide''
Auntie froze. She certainly gasped.
"What?" she asked alarmed.
The man withdrew an envelope from his pocket. He threw it on the coffee table. She tore it open, scrawling her eyes upon the rough note. It was read in murmurs:
I have often told you of how uncle stares at me. You never took it seriously and insisted on us staying at the shelter during the school holidays. Mama, the pastor isn't what you make of him. He raped me at the church shelter...
Her eyes widened. The hand that held it shook as she repeated the statement.
He raped me at the church shelter twice....
The last word echoed in her mind louder than the rest. Her grip tensed. Tears streamed down pale cheeks to tint the little bond paper. A soft pat encouraged her to continue:
I'm not his only victim. Most orphan girls were forced into abortion. We couldn't risk telling the police since he threatened us with death. For months now I have been secretly smoking. I even thought alcohol would wash away the stress.
Now by the time this letter gets home, I will be dead. Free from hustles you face paying rentals, food and loans single handily.
Free from uncle Chitumbura: - the man who raped me alas.
The tittering of paper to shreds was heard next.
''She is pregnant,'' hissed the headmaster, ''she is pregnant! We can't allow her to proceed with examinations.''
Auntie's tears cascaded down her hands. The man got up and took a deep breath. His briefcase was now at his side. She reached out to hug her daughter. A glimpse of both women rocking in waves of sobs was too heart-rending.
He closed the door shut for comfort.
'How else can you sustain this household when you are unemployed?'
''It's culturally acceptable for him to take over!''
''He is a holy man of God!''
''It's what your husband would've wanted.''
The chorus continued. The lunch table then consisted of the summoned in-laws. The clinking of cutlery diffused.
''He is a married man,'' broke out auntie in protest, ''who raped me just hours ago!''
''How can a man rape his inheritance?'' quizzed a white haired elder.
''Women rights' talks are twisting your mind woman,'' he chanted, lowering the paper.
''Chitumbura is my only son left,'' he continued, ''your husband's elder brother.''
''Exactly, he is way too old,'' she interrupted; ''besides, a pastor can only have one wife.''
The old man took a bow, as if sensing defeat.
''His wife is barren, a divorce is underway,'' defended grandma.
''You used to say my husband was sterile, remember?'' auntie replied,'' before Jabu's birth''
''We shall not unveil his tombstone,'' grandma pronounced, ''unless you agree.''
''You can't force me to marry him, ''auntie flamed, ''that's immoral!''
''You deserve nothing our son left behind,'' grandma proclaimed, ''you have always been spoiled, hot-headed and morally loose.''
''My husband wrote a will, my children will never be destitute.''
''This is your final chance to prove your worth my daughter,'' howled grandpa, ''we won't let our son's wealth end up in the hands of another man!''
This was the main reason why they had come. The deceased's belongings had to be divided among relatives. A kinsman was to take up his place. His final words had to be read by the family lawyer who was apparently late. Chitumbura had come in earlier to setup arrangements. This only revealed his true nature.
''Who said I'm getting married again? ,'' she shouted, ''and with all due respect, I quit my job when he fell sick!''
''I also contributed to his wealth! ,''she screamed, ''it is high time Chipo knows the truth''
''Ssh, Ssh...hush, you need not drag her in,'' said the bony old lady.
''What mama?'' the girl burst out.
She had just entered with a platter.
''Chitumbura is your father!''
Glass shuttered on the floor. Chipo's eyes looked bizarre from shock. It is grandma that caught her before she landed.
''Why?'' she mumbled, ''why wasn't I told.''
''You are still too young to understand tradition,'' grandpa explained.
He checked her temperature. Her gaze seemed distant.
''But he raped me,'' she cried, ''my own father raped me!''
Both grandma and grandpa looked at one another eerily before eyeing their daughter- in-law. The cat was out of the bag.
''I feared it would injure her reputation,'' auntie briskly said, ''people talk.''
'Does-s-s-she-e-e, he knoooow mama-a-a-a?' stammered Chipo.
''We kept it away from him,'' began auntie, ''so that he wouldn't interfere with our lives.''
Her expression testified the existence of a concealed drama.
She thought of how conception was an issue sixteen years ago. How they had roamed villages for herbs and prayers. How relatives threatened to throw her out of marriage due to her alleged barrenness. How Chitumbura took advantage of her at church offices. How her husband had forgiven his brother and sown her to silence. Most knew and deemed it a cultural norm. It all fit like pieces of the simplest jig-saw puzzle. Auntie's huge and bruised eyelids painted her into a perfect tragic heroine.
''You can't report my son to the police,'' said grandpa, ''I have already lost one.''
''I will get a good sangoma to rid us of this taboo,'' continued the old man.
His index finger was pointed at Chipo's belly. The silence was deafening. Everyone looked like a burst of nerves.
''I want my baby!'' shouted the girl, ''I won't let you ......''
Before another word, the door creaked open.
Chitumbura stood there boldly.
''Arrest her! ,''he barked, ''search the house!''
Two constables marched in. Both men had batons. One stationed at the table. The other began a search. The air was so tense; one could've sliced it with a machete.
''Witch,'' he cursed, ''you thought you could get away with charity money.''
''Do you have any money that belongs to this man?''
Auntie looked sheepish, her eyes lit up with a sudden realisation. So this is why he left bills in her bra. She threw the money on the floor and spat on it.
''Thought so,'' echoed a voice. He was about to cuff her when another bellowed from behind.
''Where is your warrant?'' quizzed the lawyer, ''release my client!''
Gono stood steadfast in his blue suit, the picture of perfect respectability that could never be shaken by any storm.
''I got here as fast as I could,'' he panted eyeing auntie.
The man released her. He stepped to Chitumbura's side.
''Do you know who you are dealing with?'' said the pastor.
Chitumbura was a rich businessman. His relationship with the Police chief was an open secret. He was a war veteran; a former Chaplin. Government delegates consulted him; our community took him for the hand of God. The pastor was influential enough to call in for favours from high ranks.
''This prostitute stole church money!'' he bellowed with outrage, ''she has every right to rot in prison and hell.''
''That is a very serious accusation sir,' replied Gono, ''she can sue you for that on top of rape.''
''I caught her pants down with another man,'' he shamelessly lied, 'she would lay down with anyone, in fact she seduced me.'
''You will have to stand trial,'' replied the lawyer.
My grandparents were all ears and mouths open. Chipo stood behind them, frightened to the bone.
''Child molester,'' she said, ''shameless dog! , my mother could be pregnant with your bastard.''
''Do you really think any judge is going to buy that rubbish?'' said Chitumbura seemingly wasted.
His lips had cracked open to reveal a ridiculous smile. He burst into laughter signalling his escorts to stroll out of the house.
''See you in court then, Gono,'' he said in retreat, totally relaxed.
The old couple rushed after the object of glances and stares. The devil banged the door shut.
A swift thud of his portfolio on the coffee table broke the silence.
''I need to know if both of you can stand trial?'' quizzed the lawyer, his visage like a vulture's.
''Why should we?'' responded auntie, ''he will probably buy off the jury.''
''It would all be a splendid waste of time,'' she sighed.
''In legal battles, it's one's word against the other,'' replied the lawyer, ''in this case there are many counts of rape, so we do have a relative advantage.''
''We can't afford to pay you'' auntie said, ''we barely have enough for mortgages.''
''Don't worry; there are several organisations that sponsor cases like these.''
He pulled out business cards of respective Woman Rights activist groups. Gono agreed to draft letters revealing the nature of the abuses they had gone through.
''It would be procedural for us to file a police report first,'' he said,
''All we need is for you to provide me facts and evidence''
All looked startled.
''For starters, any pants worn the day you were raped?'' suggested Gono.
''Any footage perhaps, devices close then or possible witnesses,'' continued the lawyer, ''would be an upper hand.''
The woman rushed to the bedroom. She gathered her blood stained lingerie and cell phone into a plastic bag.
Chipo just set there on the sofa, deflated, with a palm to her cheek.
''Would any of your friends at the shelter care to testify? , ''the lawyer quizzed eyeing her. The girl simply shook her head.
''Don't worry; a refraining order for Chitumbura and counselling sessions will change that.''
His utterance was authoritative.
Eventually my cousin and her mother gained confidence. Possibilities of justice dawned unto both women. It was as if Gono had opened a long awaited invisible door that day - a door of hope.
He walked out - the David to their Goliath.
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